Communication Solutions for the modern world

The Opportunity

Overcoming the Language Barrier in a More Connected World

In an increasingly connected world, communication is key. And with travel soon expected to reach or exceed pre-pandemic levels, tourists, business travelers, and hosts around the world will soon be forced to confront language barriers for the first time in years.

The ability to communicate effectively represents a valuable convenience when traveling or welcoming international visitors. But there are also situations where the ability to effectively communicate in another language can mean the difference between life and death. 

A recent study of 1000 healthcare workers across the UK found that nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel spend as much as four and a half hours every week managing communication troubles stemming from language barriers. This can lead to any number of potential issues, and many of those surveyed claimed that difficulties communicating with patients or even colleagues for whom English is a second language had directly affected the quality of care they were able to provide.

A separate study, titled “The Implications of Language Barriers for Healthcare,” supports these findings by stating that language barriers are responsible for reducing the satisfaction of medical providers and patients, while also impacting the quality of services delivered as well as patient safety. 

These issues are only magnified in times of crisis. People displaced from their homes by war, famine or natural disaster likely won’t have the ability to decide where they go. The language barrier can make it difficult for families fleeing conflicts to stick together, connect with appropriate relief agencies, or even obtain life-saving treatments. The report found that implementation of translation tools and services increased patient and provider satisfaction by upwards of 92%.

“We need a partner that can keep up with us. With the Soracom Team, we know that our needs will be met quickly and efficiently.”

Noriyuki Matsuda Pocketalk

The Solution

A Passport to the World in the Palm of Your Hand

It was this realization that inspired IoT product developer SourceNext to create Pocketalk, a line of translation devices designed to simplify communications across language barriers. Powered by a comprehensive platform that can quickly and accurately recognize words and phrases from 82 separate languages by selecting from multiple cloud-based translation engines to find the translation most suitable for each language pair, the Pocketalk family of devices and services offers a full-service solution for the language barrier.

The flagship of this product line is the Pocketalk S, a handheld translator that features a 2.7-inch HD touchscreen, a user-friendly single-button interface, and a text-to-translate camera that can make signage and menus more accessible for users. 

There is also a Pocketalk plus model that provides the same services and functionality as the S, but with a larger screen and extended battery life; as well as a Pocketalk classic model, which removes the camera to support battery life of up to 240 hours! Each Pocketalk device comes with a complimentary 2-year data plan that connects each device to a central translation server, ensuring the most comprehensive and up-to-date translations possible.

Designers looked beyond Pocketalk’s ability to be a travel companion and created a solution that is just as useful in more dire situations. Pocketalk offers many HIPAA-compliant solutions intended specifically to help medical professionals connect with those in need. To prove this, the company donated several hundred devices to medical facilities combatting Covid-19 at the onset of the pandemic.

“The pandemic helped us see just how valuable Pocketalk is in the healthcare space and, to that end, we are empowered and passionate about it helping break down barriers between healthcare providers and patients,” said Joe Miller, General Manager at Pocketalk. “Not only can tech help doctors and nurses and other medical professionals do their job, but it also allows for vital relationship building, which is crucial within the healthcare sector.”

The company has even donated 1,000 Pocketalk devices to the Ukrainian Embassy in its native Japan to help those individuals displaced by the ongoing conflict with Russia. This has proven invaluable to many of the displaced Ukrainian families who have found their way to Japan, most of whom face difficulties from the language barrier.

“I’m sure they’ll have many chances to help in tasks like administrative processes at local government offices or opening a bank account,” said Pocketalk president Noriyuki Matsuda. “I hope they might also help them get to know Japanese people, too, and, in some small way, ease the loneliness of being separated from their homeland.”

Pocketalk has also donated several hundred devices to border towns in Poland to aid in the ongoing evacuation.

Why Soracom

Scalable Solutions and an Agile Mindset

Realizing early in the development process that implementing translation logic directly into the device would lead to a bulky, less capable tool, Pocketalk’s parent company, SourceNext, decided that cloud connectivity was essential to making the Pocketalk stand out. WiFi was briefly considered, but the uncertainty of available hotspots would make the devices less accessible for international travelers. 

In Soracom, SourceNext found a partner that not only understands the challenges associated with deploying a large fleet of IoT devices, but also the ability to strike while the iron is hot. Famously, the partnership was solidified over a lunch meeting that yielded a joint press event within two weeks, something that suited Matsuda’s business sensibilities.

“We need a partner that can keep up with us,” said Matsuda. “With the Soracom Team, we know that our needs will be met quickly and efficiently.”

Within a matter of weeks, the Soracom team had developed a comprehensive IoT solution that not only ensured strong, secure connectivity for every device Pocketalk deploys but also offered SourceNext the ability to scale as needed. By integrating an API to the backend, SourceNext is able to track and control thousands of devices through their Soracom SIM cards.

Key to this is Soracom’s suite of SIM Lifecycle Management tools. Each Pocketalk device contains a SIM card (in most models, an embedded eSim) that allows it to access wireless data, and each device is tested before it is shipped. Thanks to the thorough SIM management tools provided in Soracom’s API, these SIMs can be set to Standby until activated by a retailer. This has the dual effect of allowing the Pocketalk devices to “just work” fresh out of the package, while also preventing the devices from accruing any data charges when they are not being used.

Upon device activation, Pocketalk uses Soracom’s subscription container feature to download an additional SIM profile in order to expand the subscription network options on a device. This allows Pocketalks to optimize the network cost in specific regions and support new countries and areas when Soracom expands the cellular operator partnership.

The Outcome

Connecting the World By Tearing Down the Language Barrier

With the world growing more diverse and metropolitan every day, the opportunity to break down language barriers will only grow larger. Pocketalk is now working to establish its devices as the go-to translators for the medical industry, and in 2021 became the first handheld translation device to achieve HIPAA compliance. 

That doesn’t mean the company has forgotten about its position as a travel tool, either. The Pocketalk Plus has been identified by numerous travel blogs as the best translation device on the market, and the company has shipped over 500 thousand units to international travelers since its launch. 

The product line has also expanded to include cloud-based translation software solutions. These include the Pocketalk App (a companion software for their line of handheld devices), Pocketalk Subtitles (a service designed to translate video calls in real-time), and Pocketalk Console (a fleet management solution for major business users).

“Pocketalk has existed to bring people together, build deeper connections firsthand through conversation and shatter any language barriers that divide us,” said Matsuda. “Our latest solutions serve as the next step forward in our ongoing journey to connect us all as a global community.”

SourceNext has also established an American operation in Palo Alto, California, with the express mission to help companies based in the US expand their presence in the Japanese market.